Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Germans trounce favourites to win the prize

Germans trounce favourites to win the prize.
UEFA u21 Championship Final
Germany 4:0 England

Germany pricked the bubble surrounding Sturat Pearce's England u21s by blanking them 4-0 in the UEFA u21 final in Malmo.

Werder Bremen's Mesut Ozil, one of the best midifielders in the tournament, was the ringleader of the tormentors as Pearce's dream of Euro glory once more foundered at Teutonic feet.

Leading 1-0 at the interval from an almost copycat goal of the one they scored against England in Halmstad, the Germans sat back in the second half and let the Three Lions monopolise possession, but picked them off with three killer counter-attacks, which left the final score appear like a rout had happened.

It had not. England enjoyed 60% of the ball and dominated proceedings in the second half, but had lost the verve they showed in the group stages and semi-final when leading Sweden 3-0 at half time. The yellow cards shown to Gabriel Agbonlahor, Fraizer Campbell and Joe Hart cost them dear in Malmo.

With no recognisable strikers left, Theo Walcott, baptised star of the show before the first game, was left forlorn up front in the middle, unable to physically dominate the defenders around him and shorn of decent through-balls to sprint after.

Then at the back, Watford's Scott Loach was a less than adequate replacement for Hart. He was wrong-footed for Ozil's swerving goal in the 48th minute and let Sandro Wagner's 79th minute strike fly through his legs.

Germany however, played a tactically sound game, marked closely, defended en masse and did a textbook job in frustrating their more fancied opponents, waiting until England lost possession before raiding upfield.

A surprise then, as Sweden, Belarus and Italy had looked more impressive than the Germans beforehand, and a devastating loss for England, who had looked all set from day one to bring home their first u21 trophy since 1984.

After Italia '90 and Euro '96, Pearce's run of misfortune against the Germans goes on.

GER - Castro 23'
GER - Ozil 48'
GER- Wagner 79'
GER - Wagner 84'

Germany- Neuer, Beck, Howedes, Boateng, Boenisch, Hummels (Aogo 83'), Johnson (Schwaab 68''), Castro, Khedira, Ozil (Schmelzer 89), Wagner.
England - Loach, Cranie (Gardner 80'), Richards, Onuoha (Mancienne 46'), Gibbs, Cattermole, Muamba (Rodwell 77'), Noble, Milner, Walcott, Johnson.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Euro u21 Final: England's great chance

UEFA u21 Championship Final, Malmo, Sweden

England v Germany

After a ding-dong semi final in which they threw away a three-goal lead before winning 5-4 on penalties, England return to Malmo for the final of the UEFA u21 Championship.

Stuart Pearce will be missing three key players through suspension - goalkeeper Joe Hart and forwards Gabriel Agbonlahor and Fraizer Campbell, which means Theo Walcott should take on a central striking role against the Germans, who edged Italy 1-0 to reach the final.

Pearce will be confident of victory, after his selection with ten changes outplayed the Germans and fought to a 1-1 draw in the group stage in Halmstad. Despite the suspended absentees, England's squad remains deeper and more battle-hardened than any other.

While England's Premier League is generally considered detrimental to youth development, its academies temples of cultural globalisation instead of national breeding grounds, a victory for the u21s in Sweden tonight will reassure doubters.

Germany have not looked as impressive as Serbia or Sweden overall but like all German elftals they are game-savvy and tournament-savvy enough to reach the final even when they are not one of the best two teams.

Plus, coach Horst Hrubesch has a couple of aces in talented playmaker Mehsut Ozil of Werder Bremen and attacking midfielder Gonzalo Castro of Bayer Leverkusen England must beware.

Win or lose, Pearce has come through this tournament with flying colours. The former England captain has been an engrossing communicator at press conferences, impressing journalists with his acute analysis of games and tournament issues. Pearce's progress from mediocre Man City coach to being a favourite to succeed Fabio Capello as England coach has been meteoric.

But a second successive failure to bring home the silverware will wound his reputation. England began the tournament as hot favourites with their arsenal of Premier League stars. Tonight in Malmo they have their best chance in years of winning a tournament.

Interestingly, England's two penalty villains of Italia '90 against Germany are in the stadium - Pearce and Chris Waddle, who is working as a radio summariser.

After the fright against Sweden, another shoot-out defeat to the Germans is just too much for Pearce to contemplate.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Brazilian blowback ends American dream

FIFA Confederations Cup Final, Johannesburg
BRAZIL 3:2 USA
USA - Dempsey 10'
USA - Donovan 27'
BRA- Luis Fabiano 46'
BRA- Luis Fabiano 74'
BRA- Lucio 84'


Brazil retained the Confederations Cup after a real game of two halves at Ellis Park saw the United States take a shock 2-0 lead before succumbing to a Brazilian tempest in the second half to lose 3-2.

After dismissing the Spanish in the semi-final, the US were all set to replicate the Miracle of Bloemfontein with a two-goal lead, until Brazil remembered their status and blitzed them with three goals in the second half.

The US' solid 442 had frustrated the selecao enough to knock them out of their stride. Increasingly bereft of ideas and lacking any zest, the five-times World Cup winners had relied too much on individual magic to breach the white wall in front of them, which for the second game in a row was not giving way.

After less than ten minutes the Americans were ahead as Jonathan Spector's deep centre from the right wing curled into the path of Clint Dempsey who had pulled clear of the yellow shirts before tapping the ball past a despairing Julio Cesar into the far corner. America, on their way home after two miserable group defeats and with their coach on deathwatch, were instead heading towards the trophy itself.

The dream was surely on, a shock to be heard around the world. Brazil were struggling, like Spain had, to contend with the two lines of four, massed like robots in front of Tim Howard. After 27 minutes it got worse for them, as the US leapt into a two-nil lead. Four touches were all it took for the Americans to score after robbing Brazil of the ball close to their own box. Charlie Davies and Landon Donovan played a textbook wall-pass move which Donovan finished with real aplomb.

Half-time and the Americans deservedly led. Not only had they worked hard to frustrate Brazil and keep their shape come what may, Dempsey and Donovan had stayed upfield while their colleagues had toiled to keep the yellow army at bay, but the gamble had worked. Not only had they posed a threat on the break which produced two goals, but they had also kept the Brazilian full-backs from overlapping. The US were winning the tactical battle. The soccer world was topsy-turvy.

What a difference half time made. Brazil were unrecognisable from their first half shadows and cranked up the samba as soon as the second half kicked off, pulling a goal back within a minute. Luis Fabiano, the tournament's premier marksman, swiveled and fired home from the edge of the box in a split-second, a goal of international calibre.

The quick strike put wind in their sails. It was all Brazil now, pressing, fast, furious and inventive, everything they were not in the first half, the old selecao rejuvenated.

What magic must Dunga have worked in the dressing room. His players were defending higher up the field and their fullbacks, neutered previously, now overlapped with abandon. Six minutes later they were unlucky as a Kaka header crept over the line but was punched clear by Howard before the officials noticed. Could the US hold out? It looked unlikely, but just maybe their never-say-die and all-hands-to-the-pump team spirit might see out the clock.

Sixteen minutes from time disaster struck again. Kaka, a wandering assassin hungry for a kill, popped up on the left flank and steamed past Spector like an express train, before pulling back a deadly cross which Robinho hit goalward before Fabiano converted: 2-2 and Brazil clearly in the driving seat. The brave American challenge was wilting in the cool Johannesburg night.

Bradley did what he could, throwing on three fresh pairs of legs for his tiring troops but the MLS substitutes made no impact, a reminder of the need for 23 international class players in your squad.

Lucio rose highest to a cross five minutes from time to head Brazil into a deserved lead and an uncluttered path to the tournament. The goalscorer was in tears of joy. At the final whistle Dempsey cried in sorrow. So near, but still so far, the US had almost completed an incredible dream, but could have few complaints about the final score.

While they surprised the world by beating Spain and leading Brazil, it will still be a while before the US can mount a credible challenge for the big prize. Still, results like these will win them more respect worldwide and inspire more American kids to aim high in the Beautiful Game.

It was in Brazilian town of Belo Horizonte where the US shocked the football world by beating England in the 1950 World Cup Finals. Their future is still a beautiful horizon, but for now God is still a Brazilian.

In the earlier game, Spain grabbed third place by beating South Africa 3-2.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Friday, June 26, 2009

The strange case of Psycho & Theo

The strange case of Psycho & Theo.
Any coach who can afford to leave Theo Walcott out of his team is a lucky one.
But when that team is the England U21s and Walcott has started the last two games for the National Team, the manager opens himself up to scrutiny. Is the team really that good? Or is there another reason?

Predictably, journalists have latched onto Pearce's sporadic use of his best player as a story to run with and them to interrogate him on at every opportunity. Pearce denies any exceptionalism at every turn, but the hacks are still baffled.

Is the FA trying to keep the big clubs on board by tacitly acquiescing to Arsene Wenger’s request that Walcott should not travel to Sweden? Is Pearce trying to prove to others, or even to himself, that star names cannot be allowed to outshine the team’s identity? Or is he secretly playing games with his opponents by naming unexpected lineups only to unleash his talisman as an impact substitute?

It would seem absurd to suggest England could do without Walcott when he is good enough to play for the National Team and was explosive against Spain.
The promotional posters and literature for the UEFA u21 Championship all seem to have Walcott prominently displayed on them.

English football is closely watched in Scandinavia and Arsenal have strong support across Sweden. Attracting crowds to U21 football during the Midsummer Holiday here was never going to be easy, so the organizers must have breathed a sigh of relief when England refused to bow to Wenger’s predictable request that they rest his scarcely-used 20-year-old this summer. If there is one thing Wenger has no appreciation of it is the international game and it should not bow to his selfish and club-centric demands.

True, Walcott did not impress for the first 45minutes against Finland in Halmstad and was unsurprisingly replaced. Coach Stuart Pearce justified his substitution of the Arsenal starlet by pointing to the fact England won the game after he departed, but the media interrogation is not about to stop. He is the star name of the tournament, just ahead of the now disappointing Bojan Krkic of Spain, and the show must go on.

When Walcott was not named to the starting eleven against Spain in England’s second game there were baffled looks all around. ‘Is he injured?’ everyone wondered. Not as far as anyone knew.

At last! was the collective feeling in Gothenburg’s new stadium when Walcott stepped onto the field after an hour and the effect was immediately catalytic. England scored within two minutes and added a second soon afterwards following a typical roadrunner raid by Walcott on the Spanish defence.

With that victory England qualified for the semi-finals, leaving the clash with Germany in Halmstad little more than a training game. The one thing Pearce will not want is for his best players to get injured and/or suspended in that game. But there was Walcott, coming on as a second-half sub….?!?!?

Without Walcott, England still appear to have the quality to defeat any team in this competition, but if they struggle to make headway after an hour, an injection of the Arsenal man into the cocktail should prove too potent for anyone, so Pearce’s thinking goes. Psycho remains unconvinced of the need for 90 minutes of Theo. But in the knock-out stages there is no room for experimenting or for making the sort of errors you have time to make amends for in the group stage.

Come the semi-final on Friday, Pearce must be tempted to give in and field Walcott from the start, although his return against Spain might tempt him into using him as sub again. It is a risk which could backfire should England leave it too late to do too much catching up, but results so far have backed Pearce.
Whatever his insistence on treating all his players the same as each other, the former England skipper knows well that some players are more equal than others.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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In the Driver's seat

Soccerphile Exclusive:
England u21 revelation Andrew Driver



Andrew Driver is not exactly a name on many fans' lips, but after a sAndrew Driver.tellar debut for the England u21 side against Germany on Monday, expect to hear more of this young talent soon.

The 21 year-old from Lancashire, who plays his football north of the border with Heart of Midlothian, was a sensation on the right-wing, storming up the flanks and leading the Germans a merry dance with his penetrative runs, until coach Stuart Pearce decided to rest his ace after 71 minutes' of a more than satisfactory debut.

"Obviously it was a dream to get my first cap," Driver told Soccerphile. "It was the first massive game for me, and one of the biggest of my career. I really enjoyed it," he went on, "and am really pleased with how it went. I wanted to get the ball at every opportunity and it is good when you are in that mood."

Watching Driver lead the line against Germany so confidently, it was eye-opening to think it really was his first game for his country at any level.

Of course, England had taken notice already, as had Burnley and Coventry, who had both been rebuffed in efforts to sign the precocious midfielder, the Sky Blues offering one million pounds back in January's transfer window.

Edinburgh might not be the most usual port of call for English u21s, but Driver has lived in the Scottish capital since nine years ago when his father took the family north of the border for work.

Joining the Tynecastle youth system, the young Englishman worked his way through the ranks until he made his first-team debut for the Jam bos in a pre-season tour of Austria in 2006.

Driver speaks with Lancastrian vowels and a hint of that county's unmistakable burr, but confesses it is all a bit of a ruse to hide his subsequently-acquired Scottish accent.

"I just sound English because I have been with English people here for a while!," he joked. "When I arrived all the boys said I sounded Scottish. I have been taking quite a bit of stick as you can imagine. I just say a few words and get slagged!"

And joining a team including some household names with World Cup and Champions League experience was not easy.

"It was really nerve-racking the first time I entered the England dressing-room not knowing everyone," he admitted, "because these guys are at the top of their game. I have never played against them and have never been near them so they would not know who I am. But the boys have made it really easy and I feel like I have settled in quite well. Football is football when you are out on the pitch and everyone is the same."

Overlooked for the first two games in Sweden, Driver is pressing for inclusion against the hosts in the semi-final, but his lack of caps will count against him making the starting eleven.

"There are boys in the squad who are very experienced," he said.

"In my position you have Milner and Walcott in my position and Johnno (Adam Johnson) on the left so obviously I am just happy I went out and showed everything I could and put myself in the mix. It is a team game so if I am not selected I will just be happy to support the team. It is a massive tournament for us and however the manager decides to win it I will be very happy to go along with him. Stuart has been very supportive of me and the training has been brilliant. He is brilliant with the players."

Win or lose in Gothenburg tonight, Driver will not forget the first time he played for his country, and this is surely not the last time we will have heard of him either.

"For me the experience is something I have never done before. This is my first international squad outing. I have not always been the best traveler in the past but I have really enjoyed this trip. I just hope to take as much from it as possible and I am enjoying doing that."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Semi-final day in Sweden

It's do or die now as the UEFA U21 enters its semi-final stage.Semi-final day in Sweden.

Germany tackle the Italians in Helsingborg while a tasty clash is on the menu in Gothenburg, where a sell-out crowd is expected for Sweden v England.

A united Germany has yet to reach the finals while Italy have featured in five of the last nine u21 finals, winning four of them.

Sweden will be hoping to maintain the momentum which saw them win a bruising battle (the referee flashed two red and ten yellow cards) against the highly-rated Serbs 3-1 in their final group game. The crowd in Malmo was almost 20,000, raising hopes that the New Gamla Ullevi in Gothenburg, with its 18,800 seats, will be the first venue in the competition to witness a sell -out.

England must beware the telepathic Dutch-based striking duo of Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen, who have bagged seven goals in three games, but England's aces look more than capable of eliminating the hosts.

Stuart Pearce witnessed his B-team, with ten changes from the eleven who had beaten Spain, outplay Germany's first team in Halmstad and fight to a 1-1 finish to qualify as group winners.

"Other than they goal they snatched we had the game in control and were comfortable that whole match," England right-winger Andrew Driver told Soccerphile.

"We came to this tournament with a strong 23 and I think we showed tonight that no-one will disappoint. The boys are very confident. You have to take every game as it comes obviously and take that momentum into the next game but we are brimming with confidence."

"The team has done really well and we have shown that there is a lot of depth in the squad." Chelsea's England centre-back Michael Mancienne told Soccerphile.

Mancienne was sent off in England's opener against Finland but after serving his one-game suspension and playing 90 minutes against Germany, he is now relishing the showdown with the Swedes.


"The momentum is good and we are looking forward to the game," he said. "It has been a really good camp for us. All the boys are really close. Having been a great defender, Stuart Pearce gives me a lot of good advice so he has been really great to work under too.

Obviously Sweden are the home nation but they are all tough teams from now on."

The final is in Malmo on Monday.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sir Alex turns to Latin America for the next Ronaldo

With Cristiano Ronaldo off to join the new galáctico era at Real Madrid leaving Sir Alex Ferguson with £80 million burning a hole in his pocket here is a selection of South American starlets who could fill the vacant number seven shirt at Old Trafford.
Despite assuring Nani that he has a future at the club, having Serbian Zoran Tosic in the wings as well as pursuing Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema do not be surprised if one or more of the names below show up in a Manchester United shirt sooner rather than later.
In fact with the money raised by the sale of Ronaldo alone Fergie could bring all four of the Latin wing wizards he is linked with and still have enough left over for a sizable punt on the nags.
So let's have a look over the runners and riders…
Name: Alexis Sanchez
Age: 20
Nationality: Chilean
Current Club: Udinese
International Record: 22 caps, 7 goals
Possible Cost: £30 million
Both Udinese and Chile have benefitted this season as Alexis Sanchez continues to polish up his act and produce the goods on the pitch.
El Niño Maravilla has grabbed his chance in Italy by making 32 appearances for Udinese this term and his performances for Chile, including a brace last time out against Bolivia, have fired his nation to within touching distance of the World Cup.
Despite Udinese’s president Sergio Gasparin issuing a hands off warning to Manchester United speculation is still rife that Alexis Sanchez will be swapping Stadio Friuli for Old Trafford in time for next season.
Gasparin is obviously keen to be seen as protecting his prize asset and has turned to the press to voice his concerns about Sanchez even though the player himself has stated he would love to play for Manchester United one day.
“Alexis Sanchez is not for sale,” Gasparin told the Italian press. “From a technical standpoint, this player means a lot to us.”
“He has a four-year contract with Udinese and there is no contact with Manchester United,” bluntly added the club’s president. “We do not have any intention of selling Alexis.”
Gasparin has already turned down a €25 million bid from Bayern Munich who appear to view Sanchez as a perfect replacement for want away Franck Ribéry.
However the player’s agent appears not to be heeding Gasparin’s warning and continues to put his player in the shop window. Fernando Felicevich went as far to reveal that meetings were taking place with Old Trafford officials to get a deal off the ground.
My partner is currently in England working on the transfer of Alexis," Felicevich told Setanta.com. “Yes, we have spoken to Manchester United, but not just to United. We have also held talks with other English teams. We are trying to do the transfer this summer.”
Sanchez first appeared in the Chilean league with Cobreloa and was snapped up shortly after by Udinese for around £2 million. Sanchez was then loaned to Colo-Colo and then River Plate where he picked up an Argentine league winners medal.
After a successful debut season in Serie A Alexis Sanchez has proven his ability in one of Europe’s top leagues and the high asking price represents the relatively low risk factor of this transfer with the player primed to make an instant impact in the Premier League.
Name: Antonio Valencia
Age: 23
Nationality: Ecuadoran
Current club: Wigan Athletic (ENG)
International record: 34 caps, 4 goals
Probable cost: £17 million
Sir Alex doesn’t have to look to far for one Latin America option with Ecuadoran Antonio Valencia plying his trade just up the road at Wigan Athletic.
Valencia has just completed his third Premier League term and did his chances of a move to Old Trafford no harm with a man of the match performance there this season as Wigan lost by a single goal.
Steve Bruce knows what it takes to succeed at Manchester United and he gave a frank assessment of the player when he eventually signed Valencia on a permanent bias from Villarreal last year.
“He has pace, trickery, he is as strong as an ox and has a great work ethic,” said the former United captain. “I want him to focus completely on his football and keep improving because I believe he has the potential to be a top, top player.”
Valencia certainly stepped up to Bruce’s challenge as he helped in his manager’s transformation of Wigan from basement battlers to Europa League contenders.
However as Wigan’s chairman Dave Whelan freely admits just like Wilson Palacios, Emile Heskey and Leighton Baines before him, Valencia has his price.
That price is believed to be in the region of £17 million but could be pushed up as joint interest from Real Madrid sparks a bidding war for the Ecuadoran. Another factor which could add a few quid on to Valencia’s transfer is a 20% sell-on fee owed to Villarreal.
Whelan explains the latest state of play concerning Manchester United’s approaches.
“They have been in touch with us and we will be starting negotiations very shortly, I would imagine,” the Wigan chairman said. “United have been in touch with us over Antonio over the last two or three months, expressing an interest and putting cash offers on the table.”
Manchester United were forced to act on Valencia after they learnt of Real Madrid putting in an £18 million bid back in January despite seemingly to have already secured the services of Ronaldo.
While Whelan would like to strengthen his ties with the current Premier League champions he concedes that the eventual decision will be in the player’s hands.
“We have had offers that are acceptable to Wigan Athletic, around the £14-£18m mark, said Whelan. “One club could offer £2m more than the other, but if Antonio says he doesn't want to go there then there is no point.”
Name: Douglas Costa
Age: 18
Nationality: Brazilian
Current club: Grêmio (BRA)
International record: Under-20 11 caps, 3 goals
Probable cost: £21 million
After getting his fingers burnt with Brazilian talent in the past Sir Alex looks now to have found a way to harness players from the most successful footballing nation in the world.
Fergie plucked Kleberson straight from the Brasileirão after his performances in the 2002 World Cup singled him out as star performer in the middle of the park. However, an injury in only his second appearance for Manchester United set the tone for two disappointing seasons with the club.
A look through the Manchester United squad now though reveals a healthy Brazilian contingent including first team regular Anderson as well as Rodrigo Possebon and the Da Silva twins on the fringes.
No surprise therefore that Fergie has used his considerable scouting network in Brazil to identify a possible successor to Ronaldo. It appears all his sources have come back with the same name, Douglas Costa of Grêmio.
Now after a year of monitoring the player’s progress which has seen Douglas establish himself in the Grêmio side and guide Brazil to success at the South American under-20 championships the time has come to act.
Inter Milan and Real Madrid are reported to be interested but Manchester United hope that Douglas will be swayed by the prospect of joining up with Fergie’s current boys from Brazil.
The left-footed Douglas is rumoured to have a £21 million release trigger in his contract with Grêmio plus United would have to jump through a few hoops on the work permit front in order to secure his signature.
These hurdles however have not prevented officials from Old Trafford starting a dialogue with Douglas’ agent Cesar Bottega.
“There have been informal conversations and I believe United would match [the release price],” Bottega said. “At the end of the Brasileirão in December, Douglas will be worth at least twice that.”
Bottega also added that the reported £6.7 million that Manchester United have already tabled for Douglas was laughed off by Grêmio president Duda Kroeff.
One person who is not happy with United’s interest in Brazilian youngsters is the 1970 World Cup winning captain and scorer of that goal, Carlos Alberto. After seeing so many talented youths tempted away from his homeland Carlos Alberto has accused Manchester United in particular of “raping Brazilian football”.
As well as employing two full-time scouts in Brazil Manchester United also have a deal with Desportivo Brasil, a youth club owned by Traffic Football Management. A move which be seen as at odds with some of the club’s comments concerning third party ownership which arose as Carlos Tevez left the club.
Name: Javier Pastore
Age: 20
Nationality: Argentine
Current club: Huracán (ARG)
International record: Unreleased by Huracán for under-20 duty
Probable cost: £11 million
Last weekend I went along to watch Huracán go top of the Argentine league with a 3-0 win over Arsenal. The star of the show without doubt was Javier Pastore, a midfielder equally adept in creating as well as taking goalscoring chances.
It was looking likely that Pastore would be available in the coming months as his complicated contract with Huracán drew to a close but before last week’s match it was announced to the great delight of the crowd that Pastore has signed up for another six months on loan.
However, if a big bid was to come in who is say that Pastore would be sticking around in Buenos Aires for another season. Any deal would have to suit the investment group would paid £200,000 for 55% of his registration and Talleres, the Argentine lower league club who own the remaining 45%.
It has been quite the coup by Huracán chairman Carlos Babington, nicknamed El
Ingles for his English sounding name, to secure Pastore’s services as the cash strapped club stand one game away from an historic league title.
Pastore has benefitted from working under Huracán's manager Angel Cappa, a staunch football purist whose style of play demands the ball is played to feet. Cappa has urged Pastore to explore his talents on the pitch as he gives his players free range to express themselves in pursuit of goals.
This freedom has seen Pastore head and shoulders above his fellow tricksters in Argentina’s weekly showboating feature on a television program and what makes him such an attractive proposal is the final product he has delivered time and time again.
Braces in recent wins against River Plate and Rosario Central have kept his team in a title race as well as cementing the interest of Manchester United.
I'm very proud that a club like United are interested in me,” Pastore said. “The thing is that at clubs like Manchester United there are a lot of great players, and they are all internationals. I know that if I moved to a club like that, I'd have to wait to get my chance to play.”
In the meantime a little wrinkle for Pastore to iron out is his apparent snub of international duty which has recently seen him frozen out of Diego Maradona’s plans with the national team.
Pastore was selected to represent Argentina at the South American under-20 championships but Huracán refused to release him and this has led to a feeling that he let his country down.
When reacting to his exclusion from Argentina’s recent B international against Panama the talented youth took the opportunity once again to remind people that it was not him who made the decision to withdraw.
I didn't refuse to travel with the national team,” Pastore said, before adding. “The players who are in the national team are there because they deserve to be.”

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge and Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tosic - I want to fill Ronaldo's boots

Zoran Tosic Soccerphile Exclusive:
Manchester United & Serbia's Zoran Tosic


Manchester United's Serbian u21 star Zoran Tosic has said he will leap at the chance of replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford next season if given the opportunity.

The skilful winger, signed by Manchester United from FK Partizan in January's transfer window, has been wowing the crowds in this summer's UEFA u21 tournament in Sweden, leading to talk that he might be about to step into Ronaldo's shoes now the Portuguese star has left for Real Madrid. "I have read that," Tosic told Soccerphile.

"I came to Manchester United to get better and get stronger in every way and it will be six months in July since I came. In the next six months I hope I am going to get a chance and I have to use that chance."

22-year-old Tosic debuted for the Red Devils as a substitute for Ronaldo in an FA Cup fourth-round tie against Tottenham on the 24th of January, then made his league bow three days later, replacing Dimitar Berbatov against West Brom, but saw no more firsZoran Tosict team action in 2008-'09.

Like another flying winger in the U21 tournament, Theo Walcott, Tosic has experience with the National Team, for whom he has clocked up 13 appearances since 2007.

Standing only 5'7" (1.71m), his low centre of gravity makes him a natural dribbler. Add to that his quick feet, rapid acceleration and ability to play on both wings and he seems a potentially tailor-made replacement for Ronaldo, albeit with less prowess in the air.

He is also a free-kick specialist, but was devastated after failing to find the target with his set-piece against Belarus, the last kick of the game. Tosic collapsed crestfallen at the final whistle and did not get up from the ground for a long time.Zoran Tosic
"I was disappointed because I did not score at the end from a free kick and I am practising them every day, every day!" he explained.

"And the only reason I practise is so I can get a chance like that in the 95th minute. In that moment you show the entire world you are a player that can score from just one chance and unfortunately I did not score."
Serbia exited the competition after losing 3-1 to the hosts in Malmo on Tuesday, after registering successive 0-0s from their first two games against Italy and Belarus.

But Tosic's impressive showings in Sweden have not gone unnoticed and will mean more eyes than before will be focused on the young Serb when United kick off their Premier League defence in August.

"Of course it has been a great experience so far," he said about playing in England. "It is the strongest league in the world and every player who can play in England can play in every country.

All I know is if I get the chance I am going to use it and do my best - Who knows, maybe some day I am going to pick up Ronaldo's place!

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

UEFA u21: Sweden & Italy in the semi-finals

UEFA u21: Sweden & Italy in the semi-finals.
UEFA u21 Championship, Sweden 2009

Sweden 3-1 Serbia, Malmo, 19,820
Italy 2-1 Belarus, Helsingborg, 3,014

Sweden and Italy advanced to the semi-finals tonight leaving Belarus and Serbia to pack their bags.

The hosts downed Serbia 3-1 in front of almost 20,000 fans in Malmo, the championship's biggest crowd yet, with tournament top gunner Marcus Berg scoring twice in the first quarter of an hour to lift his goal tally to five. Serbian skipper Gojko Kacar pulled one back after 26 minutes before Ola Toivonen scored Sweden's third just short of the half hour. A fiery evening saw the referee brandish ten yellow cards and send off two Serbs, Nikola Petkovic and Nenad Tomovic.

In Helsingborg, Italy and Belarus fought a ding-dong battle for the last semi-final spot, with the Azzurrini triumphing 2-1 in the end. Sergei Kislyak fired Belarus into a 45th minute lead only for Robert Acquafresca to equalise for the Italians from the spot in added-on time.

Both sides had chances to score before Acquafresca gave Italy the lead in the 75th minute with his second goal of the evening, a lead PierLuigi Casiraghi's team held until the final whistle.

Sweden play England in Gothenburg on Friday for a place in the final, while Italy tackle Germany in Helsingborg.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iranian Stars Banned For Green Protest

Four of the six Iranian footballers who wore green armbands in Iran's 1-1 draw with South Korea in a recent World Cup qualifier have been handed life bans from the national team.

Ali Karimi, 31, team captain Mehdi Mahdavikia, 32, Hosein Ka'abi, 24 and Vahid Hashemian, 32 have been "retired" from national team duty and are reported to have had their passports confiscated.

Karimi, Mahdavikia and Hashemian have all played with top clubs in Germany. Karimi with Bayern and Mahdavikia and Hashemian with Eintracht Frankfurt and Bochum.

Confederations Cup In Full Swing

Confederations Cup In Full Swing.
With South Korea safely qualified for the 2010 World Cup, it was time to head to South Africa and the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. This competition is a rehearsal for the massive festival of football that comes next summer. It features the champion of each of the six continental confederations as well as the World Cup host, South Africa obviously, and the world champions, Italy.

The eight-nation quadrennial tournament is one of the better ideas that the world governing body has had over the years. It gives everyone a chance for a dry run and to iron out any rough spots.

The teams that make it get a great opportunity to check out training facilities in South Africa but even the pioneers often have to fight for their favored spots. The United States and Italy have fallen in love with one pristine training park in Centurion just outside Johannesburg. The Europeans used it for this competition but have been shocked as the Americans slipped in behind their backs to do a deal with the authorities. Italy are not happy - in fact, the Azzurri have not had the best of times this summer/winter.

The organizers get a dress rehearsal in logistics and in making sure that the whole thing, and even the Confederations Cup is no small affair, works for most. There have been a number of complaints about Johannesburg’s Park and Ride system that buses fans in from designated car parks around the city but plans are in place to improve this system as well as public transport for next year. For the media too, it is a great chance to become familiar with the country, the football scene, make contacts as well as more prosaic parts like accommodation and transport.

South Korea will be here in 2010 but have to wait until the draw is made in Cape Town in December to find out locations and opponents. The coastal city is one of nine World Cup hosts but not one of the four Confederations Cup sites.

The current quartet comprises of Johannesburg, neighboring Pretoria, Rustenburg to the north-west and Bloemfontein to the south.

Johannesburg - call it Joburg or Jozi as the locals do - is a sprawling metropolis of leafy avenues and shopping malls with little in the way of public transport. The first thing that every single business traveler does upon arriving at OR Tamba International Airport is first rent a car and secondly, rent a navigational system because with the former you can’t go anywhere and without the latter, you can’t find anywhere.

Outside the big cities of Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, accommodation could be hard to come by. Even in the lower profile Confederations Cup, hotels in the Free State city of Bloemfontein were fully-booked. So organization is also key.

Crime is never far from a conversation when you talk about South Africa and especially in a city like Johannesburg, it is something to be considered. Locals warn of going to the downtown area, most businesses upped and moved to the suburbs over a decade ago. There are other parts that are deemed unsafe, and unnecessary, to visit.

Caution is advised but on the whole, the locals are friendly and while any World Cup will struggle to match the smooth convenience of Germany 2006, one part in which South Africa can stand out is in the warmth of its people and the delight they feel at the prospect of being hosts to the world in the summer of 2010.

Ke Nako is the slogan which means ‘The Time Is Now’. It isn’t time yet but the countdown has now broken the one-year barrier. When the clock stops in the summer of 2010, South Korea, as well as 30 other visitors are going to have a great time in the Rainbow Nation.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

Britain’s best, but best for Liverpool?

Liverpool have wrapped up their signing of Glen Johnson from Portsmouth. The lingering doubt, though, is how much of a role can arguably Britain’s finest full-back play in transforming Liverpool into Premiership champions.

On last season’s form, Johnson is certainly England’s best full-back. His attacking raids invariably result in finer distribution than, say, Ashley Cole, he’s more trustworthy than Micah Richards and probably now edges a fully fit Gary Neville for his country’s No.2 shirt.

Whether he is the best full-back in England, however, is a far more complex debate.

Chelsea must believe so or why would they risk losing Portuguese Jose Bosingwa (who cost £16m from Porto last summer). Meanwhile, it is Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna who this month took steps to deny publicly reported interest from Real.

What’s certain is Johnson appears a more supreme Premier League athlete than Liverpool’s current first choice right back Spaniard Alvaro Arbeloa, who now looks destined to return to Spain as a makeweight in the Johnson deal.

But, £18.5m remains an incredible transaction for Liverpool’s first piece of transfer business of the summer. Of deals involving right-backs, only Barcelona's purchase of Dani Alves from Sevilla for £24m and Lilian Thuram’s move to Juventus for £23m have come at a greater cost.

(Intriguingly, Sevilla agreed to sell Alves to Liverpool three years ago, but Benitez refused to stump up the £10m asking price.)

When it’s remembered that Liverpool refused to meet Aston Villa’s £18m asking price for national team midfielder Gareth Barry a year ago – a player that has since moved for two-thirds of that amount – spending more than £18m on Johnson seems generous.

The Indepedent's Ian Herbert branded the amount "extraordinary", although like others did concede that the financial blow is softened by the remaining debt, thought to be £7m, for Peter Crouch’s move in the opposite direction last summer.

In a transfer market within a constant state of flux, and one so currently dependent on the financial clout of clubs’ foreign owners, recent deals perhaps provide the only prudent comparison.

In pre-season to date, Johnson’s sum mirrors the price Manchester City splashed out on Roque Santa Cruz while Arsenal are thought to have spent £11m on Ajax defender Thomas Vermaelen.

It’s been said that Liverpool’s bold move for Johnson shows a statement of intent.

They haven’t been prepared to wait and miss out such as in the Barry saga. They’ve moved swiftly in the wake of champions Manchester United losing first Cristiano Ronaldo and then Carlos Tevez.

The Reds have also purchased a player at the top of his game, but still with plenty of scope for improvement.

The 24-year-old was man-of-the-match in England’s 6-0 hammering of Andorra earlier his month, setting up goals-a-plenty against the amateurs.

But following the national side’s win in Kazakhstan, his defensive acumen had been questioned and his place on the right debated.

Benitez has placed an enormous amount of faith in Johnson. With the club under some financial uncertainty, the manager was only expected to enter the transfer market for two major acquisitions, and a second striker appears top of the Spaniard’s shopping list.

But the outlay on Johnson doesn’t stop with his purchase. He is reportedly commanding a £80,000 per week wage at Anfield, an amount only eclipsed by Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. The Sun said Johnson's weekly earnings would be closer to £100,000.

That’s left some Liverpool fans wondering whether his expensive signature adds any great dynamic to the squad pipped to the post last season.

"Sometimes you have to spend a little more," Benitez argued. "You can't compete in the top four of the Premier League unless you spend some money.

"We were looking for a player of quality and also somebody who is British because of the new Champions League rules.

"Glen Johnson fits both categories."

Chelsea decided that such an outlay for a player they sold to Portsmouth for £4m two years ago was too high. Manchester City were never interested.

So, Johnson’s arrival at that price is a calculated gamble. As a teenager, he failed to secure a regular first team place during Jose Mourninho’s reign at Chelsea after being signed for £6m by Claudio Ranieri.

He made only 41 appearances in his Chelsea career and was loaned to Portsmouth before making the move permanent in 2007.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Monday, June 22, 2009

UEFA u21: Germans join England in last four

UEFA u21 Championship, Group B
UEFA u21: Germans join England in last four.
England 1:1 Germany

Halmstad, Sweden - Germany booked their place in the semi-finals after drawing 1-1 with a second-string England in Halmstad this evening.

When Gonzalo Castro fired Germany into a fourth-minute lead, it looked like Stuart Pearce's weakened team selection would backfire into humiliation, but England fought back and deservedly equalised through Everton's Jack Rodwell on the half hour.

After Rodwell's goal, England had other chances to bag a second, which would have sent Spain, 2-0 conquerors of Finland in Gothenburg, through instead of Germany. But as the minutes wore on in the second half, it seemed as if both teams were content to settle for a draw.

"I expect a big performance and to win," said Stuart Pearce before the game, stressing his personal, painful experiences of losing to Germany as an England player, but his starting eleven showed ten changes to the team which had beaten Spain. Actions speak louder than words.

Inside the charming little riverside ground the Orjans Vall, German fans, chanting obscenely and belligerently, exploded flares and firecrackers before kick-off, one landing not far from England goalkeeper Scott Loach and the others fogging up the field of play. There were no visible police on show. The Swedes had expected everyone to be friends at the u21s but had not anticipated this.

Once the smog had lifted after four minutes, Germany saw clearly enough to snatch the lead in the game. Gonzalo Castro, a 22 year-old Spanish-German attacker from Bayer Leverkusen, outran Michael Mancienne and nutmegged Loach.

Germany had the lead and the psychological advantage. But as the succeeding minutes proved, they were not up to dominating their B-team opponents. Both teams slipped up and sprayed passes wildly. Then England replied.

Andrew Driver, who plays his club football in Scotland for Hearts, was England's most impressive player, driving attacks from his right-wing berth in a highly-impressive debut.

Gardner got his head onto one of his crosses and should have scored after a quarter of an hour before he and Richard Stearman got entangled in the German box five minutes later and failed to get a shot off. Promising stuff after a horrible start.

Just short of the half hour, Gardner curled over a corner from the left and Jack Rodwell, Everton's young find of the season, rose to power his header into the German net.

Panic over, England started to open up and play with more fluency. Germany, up against a B-team and having to avoid defeat, were pinned back and having to play on the counter, though they still posed a threat via Castro's energy and the mesmeric dribbling of Mesut Ozil, their ace in the pack.

But the first half ended with the red shirts of England dominating.

At 1-1, neither side needed to do anything, but any suspicions of a gentlemen's agreement had no wings, though England were clearly experimenting.

Three minutes short of the hour mark, Pearce replaced his lone striker Fraizer Campbell, who had worked well up front, with Theo Walcott, in another enigmatic employment of his star man. His retirement of the penetrative Driver with 20 minutes left for the defensive Kieran Gibbs was a sure sign that winning was not Pearce's top priority tonight.

Germany made their first switch ten minutes later, replacing their ineffective left-winger Anis Ben-Hatira with a zippier performer Marko Marin, a pint-sized midfielder reminiscent at times of Thomas Hassler.

UEFA u21: Germans join England in last four.
As the clock ran down so did each side's enthusiasm for three points, Germany especially knowing only one would do. With Spain leading Finland 2-0 in Gothenburg, an England goal would eliminate the Germans, but by the end they had lost all stomach for a fight.

In the semi-finals, England play the Group A runners-up in Gothenburg on Friday, while Germany play the Group A winners in Helsingborg the same day.

Scoring:

GER - Castro 4'
ENG - Rodwell 29'

ENG-Scott Loach (Joe Lewis 45'), Andrew Taylor, Richard Steadman, Craig Gardner, Adam Johnson, Jack Rodwell, James Tomkins, Michael Mancienne, Andrew Driver (Kieran Gibbs 71'), Fraizer Campbell (Theo Walcott 57'), Danny Rose

GER-Manuel Neuer, Andreas Beck, Bendikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Patrick Ebert (Dennis Aogo 85'), Sami Khedira, Ashkan Dejagah, Mesut Ozil, Anis Ben-Hatira (Marko Marin 67'), Gonzalo Castro, Marcel Schmelzer

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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UEFA u21: Group B deciders

u21 Euros 2009.
Gothenburg: Finland v Spain
Halmstad: England v Germany

The second semi-finalist will be decided today in the u21 European Championships in Sweden, with England already through to the knock-out stages. After a two-day hiatus to coincide with Sweden's national midsummer holiday, the football begins again in earnest.

Stuart Pearce's men face Germany in Halmstad, scene of their opening win over Finland, with nothing but pride and no injuries or bookings to play for. A draw will be enough for the Germans to qualify, but a defeat may just let in Spain, who tackle the eliminated Finns in Gothenburg. Spain trail the Germans by three points and four goals at start of play.

Group A, which concludes tomorrow, is much more open, with any of Sweden, Italy, Serbia and Belarus in contention for the last four.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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FIFA Confederations Cup: USA are shock semi-finalists

FIFA Confederations Cup: USA are shock semi-finalists.
In an extraordinary reversal of fortune the USA made it through to the Confederations Cup semi-finals after defeating Egypt 3-0 in Rustenberg.

Italy's 0-3 reverse to Brazil in the coinciding match meant the Americans advanced on goals scored with three teams left on three points at the end of the group stage. Strikes from Charlie Davies, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey sent the US through to the knock-out stages of the Confederations Cup for the first time.

But after losing 3-1 to Italy and 3-0 to Brazil, only the brave expect the Yanks to top the Spanish in the semi-finals

Semi-finals

Weds 24th June SPAIN v USA in Bloemfontein
Thu 25th June BRAZIL v SOUTH AFRICA in Johannesburg

Third-Place Play-off

Sun 28th June Rustenburg

Final

Sun 28th June in Johannesburg

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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Friday, June 19, 2009

UEFA u21: Serbia and Belarus share spoils

u21 Sweden 2009.
UEFA u21 Championship: Serbia 0:o Belarus

Malmo - The two East European nations in the finals battled to a scoreless draw in Malmo, leaving all four teams in Group A with a chance of making the semi-finals in the final round of first-games on Tuesday.

The Serbs could yet be the dark horses of the UEFA U21 tournament. They are a quick and muscular team England and the others must deal with before they can celebrate final victory in Sweden, but unless they defeat the hosts in their final game, their championship challenge will be a footnote.

After having tied Italy 0-0 in their opening game, Serbia started with aplomb against Belarus, who came seeking to repair their reputation after their 5-1 drubbing here by the Swedes.

Backed by a few hundred vociferous expats in an otherwise sparsely-attended arena in Malmo, the Serbs looked tougher and meaner competitors than their East-European near neighbours, though it was Belarus who carved out the first chance in the 13th minute when Sergei Krivets’ wickedly dipping effort was tipped over by Serbian goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic.

Two minutes later it was his opposite number Pavel Chesnovski who acrobatically denied the dangerous right-winger Zoran Tosic at his near post. Tosic, signed last summer by Manchester United from FK Partizan, is surely someone we will be seeing more of in the future. The 22 year-old has a low center of gravity, quick close control and enjoys taking defenders on. Do United already have a tailor-made replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo? Watch this space and watch his pace.

The other Serb who caught the eye in the first half was Nikola Petkovic, a formidable left-back with quick distribution, acquired in January by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With both sides needing points the field opened out, Belarus enjoying the space to play their expansive approach, while Serbia hammered away at them on the counter, hoping their physical stamina would count sooner or later.

Belarus came out for the second half confident their languid passing game could prevail after containing their more favoured opponents for the first 45 minutes, but they lacked punch up front. Lone striker Vladimir Yurchenko was frequently off the pace and shirked 50-50 balls. Krivets, their blond attacking midfielder, pulled the strings elegantly but his orchestra stayed out of key.

Still, Sweden's whipping boys were growing in confidence and Leonid Kovel should have hit the target with his drilled finish to a slick attack. Serbia needed fresh ideas so coach Slobodan Krcmarevic swapped Petkovic for attacker Nemanja Tomic in the 64th minute, switching his ace Tosic to the left wing.

Serb defender Nemanja Pecinovic should have scored with ten minutes remaining but skied his effort from close range after Tomic had whipped in a set piece from the right.

Tosic's pace still gave Serbia hope, as well as Chesnovski's nervous handling of anything in the air, but time was running out.

Deep into the five minutes' added-on, Mikhail Sivakov knocked over Gojko Kacar 20 yards out. Tosic stepped up to give the game a fairytale ending but his curling free kick scuffed the top of the net and it was all over.

Tosic must have stayed even longer on the field, looking like he had lost the World Cup for his country with a missed penalty. This young man wears his heart on his sleeve, and he and his colleagues will get a final chance on Tuesday.

The same evening Serbia play Sweden in Malmo, Belarus will tackle Italy, 2-1 conquerors of the hosts today, in Helsingborg.

BEL- Pavel Chevnovski, Nikolai Osipovich, Igor Shitov, Maksim Bordachov, Sergei Krivets, Leonid Kovel, Mikhail Afanasiev (Andrei Chukhlei 69'), Sergei Kislyak (Aleksandr Volodko 82'), Dmitri Verkhovtsov, Vladimir Yurchenko (Anton Putilo 76'), Mikhail Sivakov

SER-Zelijko Brkic, Ljomir Fejsa (Rade Veljovic 82'), Gojko Kacar, Nikola Petkovic (Nemanja Tomic 63'), Milan Smiljanic, Miralem Sulejmani, Zoran Tosic, Nenad Tomovic, Nemanja Pejcinovic, Jagos Vukovic, Marko Milinkovic (Ivan Obradovic 45')

***

Italy inflicted a 2-1 defeat on the host nation in Helsingborg this afternoon, sending them a point clear of Sweden at the top of Group A. Inter's Mario Balotelli played Jekyll & Hyde, scoring before being sent off in the first half. Cagliari's Robert Acquafresca ensured three points with a second-half strike. Ola Voinonen grabbed a late consolation for the Swedes.

After two games each, the teams' points are as follows:

Group A: Italy 4, Sweden 3, Serbia 2, Belarus 1
Group B: England 6, Germany 4, Spain 1, Finland 0

Mon 22nd June - Group B: England v Germany (Halmstad), Finland v Spain (Gothenburg)
Tue 23rd June - Group A: Serbia v Sweden (Malmo), Belarus v Italy (Helsingborg)

Semi-finals Fri 26th June - Winner A v Runner-up B (Helsingborg), Winner B v Runner-up A (Gothenburg)

Final Mon 29th June (Malmo)

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Huracán provide a breath of fresh air in Argentine league

There's a fierce wind blowing through the top order of Argentine club football as the Clausura championship draws to yet another exciting finale.

Last season’s bottom placed club River Plate are now mathematically out of the title race and the other traditional superpower Boca Juniors are a further eight points down the league.

With three teams left in the title race the swell of support in Argentina now stands behind Angel Cappa’s second place Huracán who have brushed aside rivals this season with a style of football which is very easy on the eye.

While many Argentine teams in recent years have resorted to a more direct, physical and wholly European approach to the game Cappa’s side have entertained crowds with their tradition Argentine toque-toque style of play.
Toque-toque translates as touch-touch and for an example on the global stage think of Esteban Cambiasso latching on to Hernan Crespo’s backheel after a move involving 24 passes to put Argentina 2-0 up against Serbia & Montenegro at the 2006 World Cup.

Eight players touched the ball in the move that led up to the goal before slicing open the opposition defence and it is in this image that the purist Cappa has moulded his Huracán side.

Many tipped Huracán’s title challenge to run of fizz sooner or later but deep into the business end of the season Cappa’s side are primed to bring the league title home to Parque Patricios.

Last weekend’s clasico against San Lorenzo was moved to Boca Juniors’s La Bombonera stadium for security reasons after a Huracán fan was killed after the corresponding fixture last season. Rodrigo Silvera, 27, was shot dead waiting for a takeaway pizza in November by San Lorenzo’s barra brava and the game’s toxic reputation continues to grow in Buenos Aires.

On the pitch this season the encounter turned out to be a rather drab affair as Huracán’s long-serving centre-back Pablo Goltz nodded home the game’s only goal from a corner.
With the spotlight shining on his team Cappa was clearly disappointed with his side’s showing.

“It was one of the worst games we've played,” said Cappa. “If we'd played at 30 or 40 percent of our capabilities, it would have been a simple second half.”

Vélez Sársfield are currently sitting on top of the Clausura with one point more than Huracán who are a further point ahead of Lanús. Third place Lanús were first before the latest round of games but fell two places after they were stuffed 4-1 by lowly Arsenal away while Vélez Sársfield matched Huracán’s win by dismissing Newell’s Old Boys 2-0 at home.

This weekend Cappa’s men entertain Arsenal at home and a win will put them top for at least two hours as Vélez Sársfield against Lanús kicks off after the Huracán game.

As long as Huracán pick up three points this weekend they will take their title challenge to the last day and a possible winner takes all game away to Vélez Sársfield.

Even if the overall quality on the Argentine domestic scene has been poor in recent years tight finishes to the season are becoming the norm.
In the Apertura six months ago you couldn’t squeeze a blue Rizla paper between Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo and Tigres going into the final game.

The three teams were locked on 36 points with Lanus only a further two behind meaning anyone of four teams could take the title on the last day of the season.
As it turned out Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo and Tigres all picked up a win to take their final tallies to 39 points.

With goal difference discounted as a method to separate the teams the authorities took the unprecedented step of holding a end of season three-way playoff.
Ironically enough Boca Juniors won the playoff on goal difference after all three teams won one and lost one of their round robin games.

Cappa will hope that there is no playoff required this season as two wins will secure the clubs second ever league title, their first coming in 1973. If they do bring home the title it will be a victory for aesthetically pleasing football and hopefully will go someway to bucking the trend of negativity which is now rife in domestic Argentine football.

The fluidity of Cappa’s team is borne out in the fact that despite Huracán being the league’s top scorers the club do not have a single player in double figures for the season. Instead they have four players who have five or more and a further 13 players who have chipped in with goals during the course of the season.

In discovering what makes Angel Cappa such a breath of fresh air it is important to take a look at his schooling. Huracán’s head honcho served two important apprenticeships under César Menotti and Jorge Valdano.

The chain-smoking Menotti led Argentina to World Cup triumph on home soil in 1978 and Cappa took up the assistant post with him at Boca Juniors before following him to Atletico Madrid as well as working as a trainer with the national team.

Menotti’s attacking style first bore fruit at Huracán and after wowing crowds for three years and scooping the Metropolitano in 1973 he served as national coach for nine years, grooming Diego Maradona along the way.

After working with El Flaco Cappa joined up with Jorge Valdano first at Tenerife and then at Real Madrid where they won the 1994/95 La Liga and put the wheels in motion for a period of success which the club are still trying to recreate now.

Valdano, a goalscorer in Argentina’s 1986 World Cup win, is known as El Filósofo and El Poeta for his purist views on how the game should be played. Recognized as a true philosopher of the game he has penned the influential books Sueños de fútbol and Cuentos de fútbol.

The former Real Madrid manager and latterly sporting director is known for his outspoken views such as likening a stifling Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool to watching ‘shit hanging from a stick.’
It seems Cappa shares his former bosses’ views of the turgid fare so often offered up when teams packed with skilful players decide to shut up shop.

After an undistinguished playing career Cappa himself has already enjoyed a colourful management career in his own right. He has taken charge of teams with varied success in Peru, Mexico, Spain, South Africa as well as his native Argentina.

With a patchy CV there were some grumblings from the Huracán faithful when their president Carlos Babington hired the coach last year.
Many wondered if Cappa, already into his 60s and known for his hardcore old school values, could coax a team with an average age of 23 to any degree of success.

What followed has exceed even the most romantic visions of those who hold Huracán or even the tradition values of Argentine football in high esteem.
Although everyone in Cappa’s side have played their part two names have stood out above the rest, striker Matías De Federico and midfielder Javier Pastore.

De Federico rewarded national coach Diego Maradona for his call up to for the B international against Panama by bagging a goal. The 20-year-old forward has drawn comparisons with Lionel Messi with his squat stature, ability with ball at his feet and precise left peg.

Javier Pastore is Huracán’s leading marksman with nine goals from midfield and dazzling performances against River Plate and Rosario Central last month which saw him grab a brace in both games have driven the European transfer mill into overdrive.

What makes the player such an attractive proposal is that he will be a free agent when his contract runs out at the end of the season. The 19-year-old is believed to have turned down £8.8m to join Manchester United and is waiting to hear from AC Milan, Barcelona as well as host of other interested teams.

Incidentally the last player to transfer straight from Huracán to the English top flight was Ossie Ardiles.

The interest in Pastore has come as no surprise to his coach who again gives away his mystic view of football as he refuses to take full credit for the player’s development.

“He has a lot of talent, he does things that can't be taught," said Cappa. “He is still developing, so he needs to harness that ability and adjust it to work as part of a team. He is a player who invents things, he is tremendously creative.”
Pastore leads an Argentine newspaper’s showboating league and has all the tricks plus the final product to match. If Sir Alex does get his man it would not be unreasonable to view him as a long term successor for a talented winger and prolific whiner who has recently departed Old Trafford.

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

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England sink Spain to reach semis

UEFA u21 Championship: England 2:0 Spain
Span v England.
New Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg
England eased into the semi-finals of the European U21 championship after comfortably disposing of a disappointing Spain in Gothenburg.

On a blustery and chilly evening by the Baltic, two second half goals from Fraizer Campbell and James Milner gave Stuart Pearce's team its second straight win and passage along with Germany into the last four. The catalyst for victory was Arsenal's Theo Walcott. The hyped wunderkind of the tournament had surprisingly been substituted at half time against Finland and benched for tonight's encounter. For over an hour, Pearce resisted the pressure to unleash the young Gunner before his exhausted game strategies left him no option but to throw him in to try to break the stalemate. When Walcott crossed the white line, the stadium issued its loudest roar and his high-speed soccer had immediate impact.

Spain's U21s were never as dazzling as their senior European champions, though cut from the same cloth, playing balls low to feet at varying tempos. Like England's proteges, their young guns were no novices, packed with La Liga experience from clubs like Barcelona and Villareal.

England were closely-stacked in comparison, solid, muscular and almost German in their regimentation. The body language of the coaches told a tale of two cultures as well. Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, a one-time caretaker at the Bernabeu, was a flailing mass of Latin gesticulations, like a carrier bag blown around by the stiff winds tormenting Gothenburg all day.

Pearce was less mobile as he strutted, brooding and intense.

The first half hour was shadow-boxing, only enlivened when England centre-back Nedum Onuoha beat his goalkeeper with a back pass; Joe Hart scrambled back in time to spare his colleague's blushes.

Then Real Madrid's Javi Garcia let England in after losing the ball to the eager James Milner twenty yards out and tripping the Aston Villa man as he muscled towards goal. Milner aimed his spot-kick at the bottom corner but Sergio Asenjo darted like a swift to tip it away.

Pearce looked puzzled, his game-plan unravelling. Bojan Krkic briefly drew wows from the crowd when he dragged back and curled wide of the upright, before Gabriel Agbonlahor hobbled off six minutes before the break. Another reshuffle for England's attack, with Campbell deputising.

Honours even at the interval, the Spanish had yet to catch fire, only offering hints of danger with the lanky right midfielder Javi Martinez a possible outlet.

Martinez beat Hart to a punt in the 55th minute and the England goalie, suddenly in no-man's-land, was rescued by Martin Cranie's goal-line clearance. Another close shave.

With Krkic off to the displeasure of the neutrals, enter England's rising star, a 62nd minute replacement for Middlesbrough's Adam Johnson. The Three Lions were at once galvanised, Gibbs penetrated and Milner charged while Walcott raced. They did not wait long for a reward.

In the 67th minute, Milner gleefully stole a thoughtless backpass and fed Campbell, who sidestepped Garcia before firing past Asenjo.

Five minutes later England had clear water between them and the Spanish. Walcott flicked his afterburners on and left Javi Garcia trailing in his wake. Haring to the byline in classic winger fashion, he drew the ball back smartly for the incoming Milner to sidefoot home and make it 2-0.

Two cannonades had winded the Armada and Spain looked shorn of invention, though Hart did well to stop Raul Garcia's drilled free kick low to his right.

When Jose Manuel Jurado fired into the upper tier with two minutes remaining, they were spent, outgunned by the more clinical team. Caro's eleven had promised much but failed to deliver at the whistle, a familiar narrative from Spain's archive of disappointment before Euro 2008. They had outpassed and outshot their opponents in Gothenburg, but it is goals that win games.

And England, however slow they are starting their games, appear to have mastered the art of winning while playing badly; a sure sign they will go far in this competition. Spain, eliminated, play Finland on Monday for the wooden spoon, while England face Germany in Halmstad for the bragging rights from Group B.

Scoring:

ENG - Campbell 67'
ENG - Milner 73'
Lineups -

ENG - Joe Hart, Martin Cranie, Kieran Gibbs, Micah Richards, Nedum Onuoha, Lee Cattermole, Fabrice Muamba, James Milner (Craig Gardner 84'), Mark Noble, Adam Johnson (Theo Walcott 62'), Gabriel Agbonlahor (Frazier Campbell 39')

SPA- Sergio Asenjo, Nacho Monreal, Javi Garcia, Marc Torrejon, Cesar Azpilicueta, Raul Garcia, Mario Suarez (Pedro Leon 80'), Javi Martinez (Xisco 69'), Jose Manuel Jurado, Bojan Krkic (Diego Capel 58'), Adrian Lopez.

Att: 16,123

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile